Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Post Day 1 Factorio

Wow, just wow! This is going to be a massive brain dump, so feel free not to read, unless you want a little bit of insight into what happened this afternoon in a muddled up, all over the place kind of way as I try to reflect on what happened in todays lesson.

To put is shortly, it was amazing, and although very chaotic, it was the best kind of chaos. The chaos of complete engagement with students going back and forth discussing what is going on, helping each other out while also focussed heavily on the task at hand.

I had decided a while ago after looking around and contemplating creating my own beginners introduction that the best way to introduce the basic mechanics of the game was to use the inbuilt tutorial/campaign levels, at least the basics one anyway. The concern I had with the tutorial levels, and students (at least the students I have dealt with in the past) is that there is reading, and if you have read any of my past 'rants' about students not wanting to read, well, you know how that has gone in the past.

It was not exactly the same today, it was interesting, I had a room of 11 13-17 year olds, almost completely silent for around 20 minutes while they went through some of the tutorials. After that the reading got too much for some of them, but they were still highly focussed and engaging with the tutorials.

I had one student who had played "a little bit" he said, but watching him work through the tutorial levels, he had played a fair bit, so I asked him how many hours.... he said 3 or 4, which is not a little bit, in my opinion at least. Although, that being said, it is not a huge amount of time in terms of what you can get done in regards to the gameplay. I asked him if he found the game addictive.... he said of course!

The difference in the time it took students to finish the first tutorial varied quite a bit too, from around 3 minutes to 13. A couple finished all three levels of the basic tutorial in the hour or so we had on that, but only a couple. The rest at least had the basics of movement, building, rotating and moving things around the map.

So after our break, we came back into the room, had a quick chat about what needed to happen. That the first priority was to gather the basic resources and get things as automated as possible. The tutorials did not explain the science and research mechanics, so I did a quick introduction to them. I felt that the basics was what I wanted out of the tutorials, and the rest of the mechanics would become clear as we progressed through our group build. I think that is what the tutorials delivered, and as we progress through our build, I will keep you updated on whether the other mechanics become clear or not and where I step in and explain some things.

I am glad to say that I walked out of today very happy with how it went. I did forget to save the game before shutting down the server (oops) and I thought we had lost a bit of our build, it turned out it was only about 10 minutes, but a student hung back at the end and he had made a save before he exited the server. So it ended up that we lost none of the work done today. I won't make the same mistake again tomorrow!

I am worried, today was all about 'play', learning the game, but still play. Tomorrow it gets a bit more intense and I am concerned that the students will turn off a bit. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens. The first hour or so will be looking into optimal power plant builds, as well as investigating how many items can fit on a yellow belt, and how many machines it would take to compress the belts, basically exploring the opportunities for optimising our early stage factory.

I might also do a small 'tutorial' on some of the belt mechanics, balancers and splitters and underground belts. Also how the inserters drop things on belts and how we can manipulate the sides of belts to help us get 2 different items onto a belt. I am planning on using a custom scenario I found on the web to help out with the exploration of these things. It is basically a 'creative' scenario in which we can have chests that deliver and 'eat' an unlimited amount of items.

The students are desperate to attack the aliens, but in this version there is no real purpose in doing so, since they removed the drops from the nests/bases that you used to need for the final tier science packs. So I keep trying to convince them that it is not a good idea, I don't know how much longer I can hold them off before they begin the onslaught. We are playing on 'peaceful until attacked' at the moment, but we are definitely not ready to defend our base from the horde, yet!

They haven't figured out that they can hurt each other yet, and I am keeping that little piece of information very quiet, but it may only a matter of time. It is one thing I would love to be able to turn off, but I haven't been able to figure out how, that being said, I did a bit more research and it is probably not something they are going to be able to figure out easily on their own. I do have some concerns with regards to the students killing each other on purpose, and it is something I am going to have to be very much on top of, with consequences for deliberate killing of others if it happens. Although if it does come up, I will negotiate the consequences with the group. The relationships between the students are a bit... haphazard, so deliberate killing is definitely not off the table if someone figures out how and shares their knowledge.

I am trying to be 'just another player on the server' but it I am finding it very hard. I 'stopped' playing today, and wandered around the room looking at what each student was doing, and I found that much more interesting than playing. I did help them get started, then I became an 'overseer' of sorts. Making suggestions with regards to the power, automating things and research while also providing support as students requested it.

At the end of the session, we finished up 15 to 20 minutes before the end, and I wandered around the server showing them what they achieved, showing some of the 'more advanced' automation areas. I also had a chat to them with regards to the kind of factory we should build. We are definitely in the 'spaghetti' factory at the moment, and I am suggesting we move towards the 'sectioned' factory, rather than the main bus style of factory. It takes a lot of planning to create a main bus, and I don't think we are there yet. I also made some points as to the things that perhaps we should work on tomorrow when we begin the multiplayer build.

I am hoping that after we do our 'creative' exploration in the early part of tomorrows session that some of those builds may transfer across into the group factory. I would also really like students to 'defend' their build, talk about why it should be in our group factory but I am not sure this group is up to doing that effectively. I may try it later in the week and see how it goes, because I think could be a really powerful reflective tool. I might also start that process tomorrow with them taking a screenshot of what they built, and explaining why it they built it that way, or why it is a good build.

Ok, I warned you it would be an 'all over the place' post, if you made it this far, thanks for reading, if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Expect more brain dumps over the next few days as this project continues.

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